Less than half of Finnish residents say they will "surely" vote in regional elections scheduled for next year, suggests a new poll from the non-profit Foundation for Municipal Development (KAKS). Whether the elections will be held or not is still up in the air, however, as the structural reform to create larger regional administrative bodies behind the projected elections has still not been approved by the Finnish Parliament.
Another 23 percent of the respondents to the poll said they would "quite surely" vote in the slated elections, while 12 percent indicated that they would "possibly" vote and 10 percent said that they surely or quite surely did not plan to vote.
The poll indicated that the most eager voters in the projected election would be members of the Centre Party, the centre-right National Coalition Party (NCP) and the Greens. Among SDP and Left Alliance supporters, three-quarters indicated that there was a chance they would vote. This percentage fell to 54 percent for respondents indentifying as Finns Party voters.
When analysed in terms of social-economic factors, respondents that were younger in age or had lower income levels joined students, blue-collar workers, and the unemployed in indicating less interest. Among under-30s, only one in four said they would surely vote in the regional elections.
KAKS says the results of the survey match its earlier research that indicates that voting percentages in the slated regional administration elections could remain under 50 percent. This latest KAKS survey was carried out by the pollster Kantar TNS in early June. The survey received 1,004 responses, which means that the results carry a margin of error of more than 3 percentage points in either direction.
Election contingent on fate of the reform
Shortly after taking office in 2015, the cabinet of Prime Minister Juha Sipilä proposed a new type of election to determine who will win seats on the councils of a new planned tier of regional government in Finland.
The regional government reform, which is tied to the revamp of Finland's social and health care services network, would take the administration of these services away from the near 300 separate municipalities in the country and transfer it to 18 larger bodies.
Experts have long suggested that this new trimmer administration of service would work better under just four or five regional bodies, but regional decision-making has been a cornerstone of Sipilä's predominantly rural Centre Party, and so he has stuck to his guns with 18. His coalition partners, the NCP, would have preferred 12 counties to start, and in November 2015, Sipilä threatened to bring down the government if he didn't get his way.
In late June of this year, Sipilä was forced to postpone the elections, as preliminary deliberation of the reform in Parliament had delayed a scheduled vote to approve the plans. Approval of the reform hangs by a thread in the Finnish Parliament, so it is unclear whether the elections will take place in 2019 as planned.
Addition would bring the number of elections up to five
The new regional elections would be in addition to four other regular elections in Finland: the presidential election every six years (last held in January 2018), parliamentary election every four years (coming up in April 2019), European Parliament elections every five years (coming up in May 2019), and municipal or local elections every four years (last held in April 2017).
According to the new schedule announced by PM Sipilä, the first regional elections will be held sometime in 2019 if the reform passes. The new regional administrations would not start their activities until 1 January 2021. If all goes according to plan, regional elections would be held in conjunction with local elections beginning in 2021.